WA Opera presents the 2023 season of Hope, Passion, Wonder Love

Western Australian Opera Artistic Director Chris van Tuinen is fond of an Italian greeting, “In bocca al lupo.”

It means, “In the lion’s den”; an ironic “good luck” equivalent to the English “break a leg”.

It also sums up the recent experience of the opera industry, with lockdowns and travel restrictions forcing frequent staff changes in a business where specialization is intense.

However, 2021 produced “one of the most successful seasons ever”, and Van Tuinen is optimistic about 2023, with a mix of world premieres and new productions in Perth under the banner: Hope, Passion, Wonder, Love.

West Opera Artistic Director Chris van Tuinen at His Majesty's Theatre.
camera iconWest Opera Artistic Director Chris van Tuinen at His Majesty’s Theatre. Credit: Alana Blowfield

“I think 2021 definitely saw us celebrating life behind the closed border,” he says, noting that there was still anxiety about sitting in tight spaces.

“Scheduling a season during COVID can only happen if you are so talented and I feel lucky that WA has so many operatic talents.”

The group deepened thanks to international artists returning to Perth to bolster already abundant stocks.

“Since 2021 we also made a conscious decision as an arts company to support the sector, so even if the public was reluctant to return, we did what we could to support the artists,” Van Tuinen says.

The return to the main stage productions was the icing on the cake.

“That means more opportunities for artists, and taking Traviata (this year) was a fantastic show, with fantastic singers and the audience came and we had a full house,” Van Tuinen says.

“We focus on quality, we focus on getting that quality as close to home as possible, and we focus on the best artwork.”

The theme of WAS Opera 2023: Hope, Passion, Wonder, Love.
camera iconThe theme of WAS Opera 2023: Hope, Passion, Wonder, Love. Credit: washington opera

Challenges remain, with the company flying out headliners for Puccini’s Tosca in July 12 hours in advance; a third of the choir was affected by COVID and the orchestra outperformed four concert maestros.

“So we had to do what we did, but getting five out of five performances was great,” Van Tuinen says.

“In 2022 there were no problems in the second half of the year like the first half and I am confident that we can go ahead and do what we want to do now, and I think the other arts organizations do as well. , and the public is coming back.”

In a sign of better times, Bizet’s Carmen, postponed to February 2022, will take the stage at the WACA Ground during the Perth Festival in 2023, following 30 years of Opera in the Park.

Personnel from the 2022 company were retained, including mezzo-soprano Ashlyn Tymms in the title role, with 150 singers and musicians and a total workforce of more than 200.

Mezzo-soprano Ashlyn Tymms plays the title role of Carmen in WA Opera's Perth Festival production in 2023.
camera iconMezzo-soprano Ashlyn Tymms plays the title role of Carmen in WA Opera’s Perth Festival production in 2023. Credit: Alana Blowfield

“It provides an engaging space for the Perth audience, it provides a new connection to the opera, and dozens and dozens of people are working,” Van Tuinen says.

Opera in the Park was free, albeit with tickets under COVID rules, while tickets average around $40 for Carmen.

“I don’t think cost is a barrier if there is value,” Van Tuinen says.

“We have sold more tickets now for WACA than for the entire Traviata season. We have twice as many tickets as Traviata, there are still two months to go and there is still interest”.

Other attractions for 2023 include:

  • A Northern Irish Opera production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, masterminded by Australian director Cameron Menzies and featuring Traviata star, WA-raised soprano Samantha Clarke, in a reimagining of the multi-tale happily ever after of fairies.

It’s not a grand opera, but Van Tuinen says he’s “polyamorous” about the repertoire. “I have no pretensions where good stories and good music come from,” he says. “This is one of Sondheim’s best pieces and deserves to be made by a company like ours.”

  • Bach’s Easter Oratorio at Winthrop Hall is a parallel collaboration with the University of WA in the mold of Mendelssohn’s Elijah last year, with Margarete Helgeby Chaney conducting.

“I’m a big fan of (WA composer) Lachlan Skipworth and wanted to get him involved in the dramatic music space, so we commissioned him to compose complementary pieces for Bach’s Oratorio,” Van Tuinen says. “He’s going to leave Bach and take the recitative (spoken) text and compose it.”

  • Verdi’s Otello will be a revival of an Opera Australia production by the late great Australian director Harry Kupfer, starring WA Opera’s own star tenor, Paul O’Neill.

On the question of diversity, Van Tuinen is pragmatic. “The tradition of opera is voice first and we choose locally,” he says, noting that only a handful of Otello productions of late have used singers of color. “It’s a legitimate question and I think we have a long way to go,” he says. “We can ask the same question about female characters and diversity in creative teams. Do we want to adapt these 19th century masterpieces? It sure is a problem.”

  • Returning to Puccini, a new production with Opera Queensland of La Boheme will be conducted by rising WA talent Matt Reuben James Ward, who directed Our Little Inventor this year and Noongar’s opera Koolbardi wer Wardong (Magpie and Crow) last year. .

“Again we are focusing on the idea that we can be a home for development not only for singers but for others as well,” Van Tuinen says. “We think (Matt) is a talented guy and he will put on a brand new show debuting in Perth with Elena Perroni as Mimi.” Perroni, another international star raised in WA, will reprise a role she sang for Opera in the Park in 2018.

  • Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse will continue regional tours of Koolbardi wer Wardong, visiting Bunbury in August, and will work on a new commission through 2023.

Wundig wer Wilura tells the story of star-crossed lovers who are doomed and their spirits enshrined on twin mountains outside York, separated forever by the River Avon. “It’s a story that’s been told for 3,000 generations,” Van Tuinen says. “It is a story of forbidden love that predates Romeo and Juliet by some 40,000 years. It is a love story that Shakespeare wishes he had written.”

This time Williams and Ghouse will write for an adult audience, with more complex music and a full-length production. “It’s a development for them,” Van Tuinen says.

In the lion’s den? The traditional response is “Crepi!” – Killing him!


WA Opera will present Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods at His Majesty's Theater in 2023.
camera iconWA Opera will present Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods at His Majesty’s Theater in 2023. Credit: Stefan Hill

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